By demanding it all, University of Hong Kong activists may end up with nothing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 November, 2015, 1:43am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 November, 2015, 1:43am

I am losing track of the demands student activists and pan-democratic politicians have made in the sorry saga of Johannes Chan Man-mun and his failed appointment to a top post at the University of Hong Kong.

The latest has some HKU students, teachers, staff and alumni planning to carry out a campus-wide vote on whether its governing council should reveal the reasons for rejecting the former law dean for the job. They are also demanding guarantees from the chief executive that he will not appoint council member Arthur Li Kwok-cheung - a former education secretary and head of Chinese University - to be council chairman.

Meanwhile, the HKU student publication Undergrad has applied to be an interested party to the gag order obtained by the council following the audio leaks of its members' discussions about Chan.

On a broader front, university activists and practically the entire pan-democratic camp are demanding changes to existing laws that automatically make the chief executive the head or chancellor of the seven tertiary institutions. The role of the chancellor is largely ceremonial. But he does have the power to appoint council chairmen and some council members. The activists have even argued that this limited power amounts to a threat to academic freedom and autonomy. As you can see, it's a long list of demands. I am sympathetic to some of them, but highly sceptical about others.

On Chan's rejection, we know pretty much everything from the unauthorised leaks. So what more can we learn?

At times, the students and their supporters act like they simply want to undermine the council and its key decisions and functions. As for the chief executive being the head of universities, it involves complicated legal and constitutional issues as well as long-standing practices.

Our young freedom fighters are being overly ambitious and reaching beyond their grip. They will end up polarising the entire HKU campus and other universities.

This is a lesson they should have learned from the Occupy debacle but clearly have not: by demanding everything, the activists will end up getting little or nothing.